Hensleys national title-winning vault of 17 feet.
Hensley’s national title-winning vault of 17 feet.

Millikin Freshman Kyle Hensley Captures Millikin’s First Pole Vault National Championship

There was a little magic on the runway at Virginia Beach Sports Center in Virginia on Saturday. Freshman Kyle Hensley is a national champion in the pole vault. 

Hensley, who was ranked 14th in the country heading into the championship captured the title, a fitting end to a season that had many ups and many downs. 

A local, Hensley attended Mt. Zion high school, about 15 minutes away from Millikin’s campus. He holds the school record in the pole vault there, reaching a height of 16 feet five inches. 

He would blow that personal best out of the water Saturday, beating his old mark by seven inches. 

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This isn’t the first time that Hensley has vaulted on a big stage, as he competed at the Illinois High School Association state finals several times throughout his high school career, preparing him to ultimately make the jump to the division three level. Although Hensley never captured a state title, he understands the preparation that this competition provided for him. 

“It exposed me to losing,” Hensley said. “It was honestly good for me to lose. Today, when there were three competitors left, I wasn’t worried about being the last one. I was just grateful to be in that position.” 

Hensley credits jumps coach Carrol Whitehouse for making sure that he stayed cool under pressure. 

“Whitehouse made sure that he stayed back and studied everything that needed fixed in my jumps,” he said. “He cares so deeply not just about me, but about every one of his athletes.” 

Millikin Track and Field Director and head coach Andrew Craycraft understands the significance of Hensley’s accomplishment. This is the first time a pole vaulter has ever won a national title in Millikin Track and Field history, and the second track athlete to ever win a national title, joining Carl Alexander who won the 100-meter dash in 1997-1998. 

“Kyle trusted himself,” Craycraft said. “For a guy who is as ambitious as he is, he’s had to grapple with knowing that he’s had more left in the tank all season.” 

Hensley’s approach to competing looks very different from that of other athletes. If you watch him compete during the outdoor season, you will likely find it very entertaining, even when he is not actively competing. When other athletes are stressing about the outcome, Hensley can often be found dancing in the background. 

Hensley’s first place trophy, the first pole vault trophy in Millikin Track and Field history.

The Kyle that we know and love came out,” Craycraft said. “He was dancing in between runs and having fun like he always does.” 

The national championship affects more than Millikin’s current track roster, Hensley included. Craycraft has already received several texts and messages from other alumni and even other coaches. 

“Kyle was breaking down weeping after he cleared each bar,” he said. “He won the crowd over. People from other areas were rooting for him. The Wheaton coach texted me and said that he was crying because Kyle was crying. You could see how much it meant to him.” 

Hensley wasn’t the only athlete that the Big Blue sent to Virginia Beach. Another Mt. Zion alum, senior Jake Shumaker competed in the 800-meter run, just missing the cut to make the final heat. He ran the eighth fastest times in the prelims, but did not advance, because he did not get at least second in his heat. 

The top two placers in each heat advance to the finals, then the remaining two fastest times. Because Shumaker placed third in his heat, he did not advance. 

“I love the kid so much as not only an athlete, but as a human,” Craycraft said. “He did everything that he could to prepare for today’s race.” 

The two athletes have a bright outdoor season ahead of them. Hensley will look to capture the outdoor national championship, and Shumaker will look to get back where he belongs, the podium at national championship meets. 

“It hasn’t settled in yet,” Hensley said. “I have a national title now. It just feels like I jumped well, and I won a meet.” 


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About the Contributor
Kemper Koslofski, Editor-in-Chief
Kemper Koslofski serves as the current Editor-in-Chief for the Decaturian. Born and raised in Decatur, he is very passionate about journalism and the opportunities that it can provide its writers and readers. Kemper also serves as a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) leader on campus. Editor-in-Chief: January 2023-Present Sports Editor: March 2023-December 2023

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